The Foxcroft Academy wrestling team has been on a mission all year long. The mission was to win the school’s first Class B State Wrestling Championship. The Ponies have previously won five state championships, all in Class C. They won their first one in 2004 and their last one in 2013. Three years ago FA’s wrestling team moved to Class B. They finished in 4th place their first year and in 3rd place last year.
It has been a learning experience changing classes. We had to learn how to wrestle our new opponents.
This year, the state of Maine went from three wrestling classes (A, B, and C) to two classes (A and B). The change to two wrestling classes has been something the MPA has been talking about for a while now to improve wrestling in Maine, and it definitely has made it tougher this year because now you have more quality wrestlers in each weight class. Before you might have had two quality kids, now you have to earn those victories. Due to this new change, expectations of a state championship were not very certain early in the season.
I knew we were going to have a solid team this year, but they have surpassed my expectations by far. I could see we had something special when we went to the Noble and Sanford Tournaments and placed 3rd at both. That’s why we go to those tournaments to get us ready for the end of the season.
What got us ready and believing that they could win States was when we won the North Regional Championships in a dominant fashion. Winning Regionals and beating defending State Champion Ellsworth really made the team believe that they could win.
Winning States, however, was not going to be easy. We were going to get some stiff competition from the South Regional Champion Dirigo. FA qualified ten wrestlers to States. Dirigo qualified eleven. We were also not at full strength as Connor Holmes, our 285 lb. wrestler, was dealing with a broken hand.
It was a tough couple of weeks for Connor. He had to sit out PVCs because of his hand. The next days at practice, he had to learn how to wrestle with it, but give credit to him for still gutting it out and winning Regionals.
The State Championships were held at Oceanside High School, in Rockland. The Ponies knew what they had to do to win:
Just wrestle like they have been all year.
At States, the team started solid as all of our top seeds advanced to the semifinals. This was the key to us winning. We needed to get as many wrestlers as we could into the finals, and we ended up with six in the finals to Dirigo’s four.
Going into the finals, Foxcroft had a 6-point lead. Dirigo closed the gap when their 113-pounder won his match with a pin. FA had their chance at 132, but RJ Nelson ultimately lost a close, hard-fought battle 3-0. The Ponies took the lead when Zach Caron, at 145, did what he has done all season–won. He won 5-3, for his Third State Title. Dirigo was not going away easily, and at 152 they won again. Next up for the Ponies was Billy Brock. He had to wrestle an opponent that beat him the previous week for the regional title. This time, Billy was at his best and got the pin in dramatic fashion.
There is always that one match in the tournament that just elevates the team and gets everyone pumped up to do their best. At States, it was Billy’s match. With the score tied 9-9, he just never gave up and dug deep within himself to get the pin.
This momentum carried FA to victory as we dominated the next three matches. Brandon Brock came into his match all fired up and pinned his Dirigo opponent in the first period. Next up at 220 lbs., Michael Pendriss fed off all the momentum to defeat his Winslow opponent 8-6.
The score does not show how Michael dominated the match. Last week he only beat him 1-0, but this time he dominated from start to finish with his four takedowns.
At this time in the tournament, FA had won the Team title, but we still had our 285-pounder left to wrestle. Connor Holmes was wrestling an opponent that he had not wrestled all year from Erskine Academy. Connor came out determined to win, and with the crowd behind him and cheering him on, he did not disappoint.
Connor has just been impressive all year. He was not going to be denied a State Championship today. The Erskine Academy wrestler came out strong and physical, and he quickly tried to hit a head-and-arm move, but Connor quickly countered it and just like that he put him on his back for the pin.
The FA supporters and team just went wild, as they knew it was finally theirs. They were the 2016 Class B State Wrestling Champions!
Coach Luis Ayala has now coached Foxcroft Academy to six state championships–the most by any coach in the Academy’s long history. He is also the school’s boys soccer coach, physical education and health teacher, and was recently recognized with a legislative sentiment for his coaching achievements.
Photos contributed by Gabrielle Jolin and Angela Ayala. To see more great photos of wrestling’s state-championship run, click here.